Biden Hosts Jordan’s King Amid Mideast Tensions

Amid rising tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, US President Joe Biden hosts King Abdullah II of Jordan on Thursday, the second White House meeting between leaders in less than a year and the third since Biden took office.

The President will thank Abdullah for “Jordan’s critical role in defusing tensions in Jerusalem and underscore the need to preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount,” a White House National Security Council spokesman told VOA.

Under a 1994 peace treaty with Israel, Jordan is recognized as administrator of the Temple Mount, also known as al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf al-Aqsa Mosque, the most controversial religious site in Jerusalem, revered by both Jews and Muslims.

The month-long coalition led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, described by many observers as the most right-wing government in the country’s history, has sparked heightened sensitivity around the holy sites. Last month, Amman summoned the Israeli ambassador to protest Israeli police obstructing the Jordanian envoy during his visit to Al-Aqsa. Israel Police said the envoy arrived at the site without prior coordination.

Biden and Abdullah’s meeting at the White House on Thursday follows some of the worst acts of violence in the Middle East in several years, which have seen at least 35 Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli forces in recent days and seven civilians shot dead by a Palestinian attacker in Jerusalem last Friday in front of a synagogue.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken shuttled back and forth between Israel and the West Bank on Tuesday, urging calm and the parties to keep working towards the elusive two-state solution.

Top of the Biden-Abdullah agenda is how to keep those tensions from boiling over, said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute.

“Jordan is right in the crosshairs whenever there is tension between Israelis and Palestinians,” he tells VOA.

No concrete results are expected from the meeting, but just like the King’s visit to Washington in May, Biden’s public reiteration of Jordan’s role as guardian of the Temple Mount is seen as key to maintaining the status quo. It also shows the importance Washington places on Jordan in maintaining regional stability, said Aaron David Miller, a former US diplomat who has advised on Arab-Israeli negotiations and is now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“Despite its small size and lack of regional clout, Jordan is viewed as a key US ally in the Middle East; and despite his increasing intolerance of domestic protest and dissent, a force for moderation in a turbulent region,” he tells VOA.

The war in Ukraine is also causing great concern. The Jordanian economy has been hit by the encroachments of several regional conflicts, including the wars in Iraq and Syria, and now rising energy and grain prices due to the war in Ukraine.

Earlier this week, Abdullah met with congressional leaders, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and thanked them for US financial assistance to Jordan. Washington is Jordan’s largest single provider of bilateral assistance, providing more than $1.65 billion in fiscal 2021.

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